Saturday, June 30, 2012

I can fix your words!

Oh, hell, why not?

As much as I whine and bitch and complain and rant about poorly written books, maybe I ought to make some money off it.

Proofreading -- all genres*, fiction, non-fiction; English only
Will correct spelling, usage, punctuation, grammatical errors.
Rate:  $2.00 (US) per 1,000 words as counted by MicroSoft Word, minimum charge $25.00

Line editing (including proofreading) -- romance (contemporary, historical, fantasy/paranormal), fantasy, mystery
Will correct sentence structure, recommend areas for revision, flag potential factural inaccuracies.
Rate:  $5.00 (US) per 1,000 words as counted by MicroSoft Word, minimum charge $100.00

Manuscript formatting for digital publication (without proofreading or line editing) -- all genres*, fiction, non-fiction; English only
Formatting of MSWord document without graphics for Amazon Kindle and/or Smashwords publication including TOC, appropriate front matter (copyright notice, licensing agreement, etc.)
Rate:  $100.00 up to 100,000 words; over 100,000 words, $100.00 plus $1.00 per 1,000 over 100,000.

Services do not include insertion of artwork or other graphics, design of cover art, or structural editing.

* No pornography; material deemed inappropriate/offensive may be returned uncorrected with full refund of any monies paid.

If interested, contact me through this blog.

I can't fix your story, but I can fix your manuscript.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Words in crisis

I'm not sure what made me start using "word" and/or "words" in the titles of my blog posts, but I did and I'm even thinking I should go back and change all the titles that don't have "word" in them.

However, that's not the point of this entry.  The point of this entry is the whole crisis thing.

I'm not sure who reads this.  The "traffic" report that comes with the blogger platform makes no sense to me.  It looks like the majority of my "readers" are search bots from Russian, Japan, Indonesia, the Maldives, Lithuania. . . .   Really???  And lately the most popular search word(s) that leads people(?) to this blog is "paintings of lactating women."  Hmm, that's a little bit creepy, if you ask me, even though I know why that search phrase leads to here.  And no, I'm not changing that post!

I've looked at the blogs of several other self-publishing romance writers, both newly e-published and the re-publishing variety like me.  What I've noticed from my very unscientific and rather limited survey is that most of the newly-self-e-published writers spend a lot of time promoting their books and/or talking about their personal lives.  The writers who have some traditional publishing credits tend to write more about writing and/or the business of writing.

If there are any of that former group reading this -- or writers who are contemplating the plunge into e-publishing -- allow me to express an opinion.  Obviously, it's only my opinion, and since it's my blog I ought to be able to express it with or without your permission.  So here goes:

Spend your time learning your craft.  When you have learned it, then and only then, spend your time applying it.

Yes, that's in big bold italic print. 

I'm going to be arrogant and self-congratulatory here for a moment.  I know my craft.  I have the publishing credentials to prove it, I have professional experience writing for newspapers, I have academic credentials.  In other words, I know how to write.  I know how to construct a story.  I know how to write dialogue.  I know how to spell and punctuate.  I know when to use rain, rein, or reign.  I know the difference between imply and infer. 

Most of you don't.  Oh, I know you think you do, but you don't.  Look at the one-star reviews your books are getting.  You don't know your craft and you shouldn't be publishing until you do.
There, I got my frustration out.  And yet even that isn't the point of this post.

My crisis, and hence the title of this post, comes in the application part.  This blogpost is an attempt to work my way through some of that crisis.

I have a day job that brings in a certain amount of money every month.  Unless and until my digital publishing ventures generate a similar amount, I have to keep the day job.  And of course the catch-22 there is that if I can't give up the day job, I don't have enough time to write.

To a certain extent what I'm doing now is using the day job -- and the income derived from it -- as a crutch and as an excuse for why I'm not writing more.

Well, saying I don't have the time to write is actually sort of a lie.  Sort of.  I wrote other books when I was working full time jobs that required me to be away from home and the computer, when I had kids at home to take care of, and so on.  My previous jobs, however, did not require the kind of 100% total mental focus this one does.  Frankly, it's a mind-numbingly boring job that requires very little physical effort but constant and total mental effort.  There is no drifting off into mentally crafting the next scene in the book, because all of my focus has to be on the work.

The advantage, however, is that I work at home on my own computer.  I could put my writing files on the computer I use for work and take breaks from the job to do some writing.  Unfortunately, that would not solve the essential problem.  First, I'd have to keep moving files back and forth from laptop to desktop and sometimes not know which was the most current.  Second, I'd often be too tempted away from the day job.  Third, I don't write in five minute spurts, and especially when those five minute breaks are caused by the the need to come up for mental air after drowning in the job.

But I also don't write well and easily -- and enough -- when I know my time is limited by when I have to start up the day job again, which I have to do virtually every day (except week-ends, of course, sort of).

There's another element to this, too.  My day job also takes time away from my crafting.  The crafting doesn't require the mental focus the day job does.  It isn't mind-numbingly boring either.  And it could conceivably bring in at least some of the cash currently provided by the day job.

And of course, I know that I'm the only one who can make the decision.  I'm the only one who has to find those XXX dollars every month to pay the bills, buy the dog food, put gas in the car, and so on.  I'm the one who will have to determine when it's time to risk the income security that comes from a sucky but reliable job in favor of the fun and personal satisfaction of the writing and crafting and try to make a financial go of it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The taste of bitter words

In light of my discovery last week of how badly I had screwed up on my beloved book Firefly, I took some time off from writing.  Just a few days, not long, but some time to get my thoughts in order.

I used that time to read.  Reading has always been my pump-primer, and the more I read, the more I tend to write.

I actually read several books, titles not to be mentioned here.  A few old print books including one by an old friend who, like me, is now republishing her backlist.  A couple of new ebooks by established authors whose work I had read before.  Several new ebooks by new-to-me writers.

Of the bunch, the old print book by an old friend was the last.  I finished it late last night and felt a sense of satisfaction.  Good story, good writing, nothing spectacular but nothing WTF either.  I had actually never read any of her books before, because sometimes I don't like to read friends' books out of fear they'll turn out to be lousy and I won't be able to tell my friend.  In this case, it worked out all right.  This was a nice "comfort" read.

One of the ebooks was by a fairly well established newer writer but one I had never read before.  It was okay.  I didn't exactly race through it enthralled, but I enjoyed it.  On a scale of one to ten, maybe a seven. 

Because my Kindle for PC application allows me to sort my library into "collections," I have kept the self-published books that I collected for my reviews analysis on a separate shelf for later critical reading.  The ones I read this past week-end, therefore, were not part of that group.  These were selected solely on the basis of subject matter, meaning they're all historical romances without major paranormal elements.  No time-travel, no shape-shifters, no vampires, demons, angels, fairies, elves, warlocks, wizards, etc.  They were not purchased based on what any reviews on Amazon said, or how many reviews, or how many stars.  Solely on content.

As a group, these five books made me cry.  They embarrassed me.  They offended me.  They angered me. 

One of them was fairly well written and decently formatted; I knew it was a Kindle Select publication and therefore exclusive to Amazon, which meant the author (or whoever prepared the Word document for publication) didn't have to work with a variety of digital formats.  There were a few glitches with paragraphing but nothing too distracting.  The typos and misspellings were a little more frequent and therefore more irritating but on balance the mechanics of the writing were acceptable.  Maybe a grade of C+ on that.

Story construction and story-telling were a little better.  Not terrific, but it was enough to hold the interest of this notoriously picky reader.  I reached for my editor's hat more than a few times but never had an urge to throw the laptop against the wall.  I finished the book without undue effort and felt that I'd been adequately entertained.  So maybe a B- on that.

The other four?  Oh my dear goddess.  Horrible.  Just plain horrible.  Beyond horrible.  I managed to get through 22% on the best of this horrible lot; the other three I never finished the equivalent of the 10% free sample. 

I am picky.  I admit that.  I am VERY picky.  I don't deny it.

And if you are an author contemplating self-publication, your work may land on my laptop or it may not.  Or it may land on the Kindle of some other VPP (Very Picky Person).

Or, it may land on the Kindle of a person who just doesn't appreciate your work, who doesn't understand it.  A person who "really loves Regency romances" but doesn't understand why your Regency romance is all about dukes and earls and poor governesses trying to marry wealthy men.  A person who doesn't know the difference between the American Revolutionary War and the War Between the States.  A person who doesn't know Scotland is on the same island as England. 

As authors, we only have control over what we write, and our obligation to our readers is to put out the very best product we can.  That means paying attention to details like character names so they're appropriate to the time and place, to titles and forms of address for the nobility (which varies from country to country and age to age), to details of locations and phases of the moon and weather and who goes into the room and who leaves.  That means making sure the formatting is correct, the spelling errors are kept to an absolute minimum, and so on and so on and so on.

What we can't control are readers' reactions to our writing.  We sure as hell couldn't do it back in the day when all we had were print books.  They were out there and out of our hands.  If we screwed up, it was essentially carved in stone.

Now, in this age of digital publishing, we can go back and fix our mistakes.  One mistake we can't fix, however, is damage to our reputation.

And the best way to ruin your reputation as a digitally published author is to challenge the reader who doesn't agree with your assessment of your marvelous book.

After Firefly was print published in 1988, I entered it in the 1989 RWA Golden Medallion contest.  It wasn't the RITA award then.  Needless to say, I didn't win, and that's okay.  I never expect to win anything.  But one of my judges, who at that time was just beginning her career and has gone on to be a highly successful, best-selling, award-winning author whose name would be familiar to just about anyone who has been around romance fiction for more than six months, this author clearly didn't get the whole point of Firefly.  She didn't get the historical aspects, she didn't get the grief and shame and guilt aspects.  She didn't get anything about the book, and I know this because that's what she wrote on the score sheet, which she signed.

Oh, well.

Knowing who she was and feeling hurt and disappointed, I could have written to her and complained that she was ignorant and missed the point and shouldn't have been a judge at all.  I could have, but I didn't.  She gave the book what I can only assume was her honest effort and, well, she just didn't get it.

A couple of years after that, I read a book by a wildly popular author, a book that to this day remains on many keeper shelves of historical romance readers.  I loathed the book.  To this day I think it's one of the most appalling examples of our art.  But in the course of reading it, I discovered a horrendous error of historical fact.  As a reader, I wrote a polite letter to the author and sent it to her via her publisher, asking her if she were aware of this error.  Eventually, I received an incredibly rude and insulting reply from her ("I'm surprised I didn't just throw your letter in the garbage, which is where it belongs.").  She then went on to say the error had been made by her editor and missed by herself in correcting the page proofs, but had been corrected in subsequent printings of the book, which I'm sure sold hundreds of thousands of copies.  I've seen later printings, and the error was never corrected.

And while her honest acknowledgment of the error would not have made me despise the novel any less, it would have kept me from holding that author in the lowest possible esteem.

Just a few years later, I served as a judge in RWA's Golden Heart contest, as in fact I did for many years.  In those days, judges were encouraged to provide the unpublished contestants with feedback on their contest entries beyond just the raw scores.  I guess I'm either a frustrated editor or teacher or something, because I went into great detail on each of the entries I received.  Not only did I give each writer an analysis of her individual entry, but I also gave an overview of how I addressed the judging process, what my criteria were, and how I arrived at the scores.

One writer took exception to my comments.  She wrote a very very snarky letter to me, accusing me of being in a bad mood and taking out my frustrations on the poor unpublished authors out of a sense of malice and jealousy.  And yes, I have that letter in my possession.  I also have my reply to her, in which I explained that a.) I was a volunteer who didn't appreciate being insulted for what I had done; b.) I had been given not the six manuscripts I'd been expected to judge but 10; c.) I had received those manuscripts 10 days later than expected because the co-ordinator had mailed them to the wrong address; and d.) if she didn't want feedback, why on earth had she entered the contest?

I've been on both sides.  I've been the reader, and I've been the author.  I've had the rejection letters, the low marks in the contests.  I've been the contest judge and read the horrible crap that should never have been taken out of the writer's printer and I've read the books that made me jump up and down and say "Yes!  This one is going to be published some day!"  And I've seen those books published.

And I've read the reviews on Amazon where someone didn't like a book -- including a couple of those that I read, or tried to read, this past week-end -- and the author has come back to berate the reader for not understanding it or being too picky about grammar or not being able to accept historical inaccuracies because "it's just fiction!"

And I've been following, with morbid fascination, the Badly Behaving Author threads here, here, and here on Amazon.  Don't go there unless you have lots and lots and lots of time to spare! 

Many have said there, and I cannot agree completely enough:  No matter how much the review hurts, no matter how wrong you think the reviewer is, don't respond.  If they tell you they think your book was obviously written by someone who doesn't speak English and had the whole thing translated by Google, ignore them.  If the subject line of the review is "Desperately needs editing!" or "Didn't they have spell check?" or "Formatted by one-handed monkeys" or "I kept looking for a plot and never found one" or "Heroine is the dumbest twit never to have been alive" or "If you like heroes with big wazoos and no brains, this is for you!" or "Run, do not walk, away from this book" or "Someone needs to give this author a geography lesson" or anything even remotely close to that, do not respond. 


There is no way you can fix that reviewer's impression.  Always keep in mind that there is virtually no chance in hell that they know you, and their criticisms are not directed at you but only at your book.  And as close as you are to your book, as much as you think of it as your "baby," it's not.  It's a book.  It's a bunch of lies that you strung together in hopes of entertaining other people.

Nothing you can write will change the opinion of that reader.  Even if you respond politely and the reviewer writes back and says they decided to give you another chance, you can't win.

If you respond with anything approaching anger or resentment or hostility, you've lost.  You've lost that reader and any subsequent readers who see your reply.  If the reviewer said he would never buy another of your books, do you think he will after you've called him an ignorant toad and shill for your competition?  Not likely.

It hurts.  Believe me, I know it hurts.  Write it out on your blog or in your diary or tell your significant other or critique partners or your dog (who will love you no matter what those idiot reviewers think of your precious words!), but resist the temptation to pour out your anger on the reviewer.

And then, when the anger and hurt have passed, then take another look at that review or critique or whatever it is and see if maybe they weren't correct after all.  Read it to find out what they took issue with.  If it's the subject matter or your personal perspective on  it, well, there's not much you can do about that.  If it's clear they don't know what they're talking about (historical accuracy, spelling and grammar, genre or sub-genre conventions), just ignore them.  But if there is validity in their comments, and especially if they've pointed to specifics, then maybe you'd better consider that they may be correct.

Even then, keep it to yourself, and go fix the book.

I won't be reviewing those four books that I found so horrible and unreadable this week-end.  Maybe I should, but I won't.  For some of them, the reviews have already come in.  How the authors react is up to them.  And that's why I won't tell you what books they are.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Some very, very expensive words

Here's some advice to authors who are planning to digitally self-publish, whether on Amazon or Smashwords or anywhere else:

Regardless what else you spend money on, set aside $10 or so to buy a copy of each edition of your book immediately after it's been e-published and check to make sure it is absolutely 100% clean.  I don't care if you format it yourself or you have someone else do it.  I don't care if it's a friend or a paid service that did the formatting and uploading.  Spend the money and check out the absolute final product, the one that's purchased exactly the way your customers will buy it -- and make sure that is the way you want them to see it.

You'll save yourself a lot of grief.

I didn't do that with Firefly.  Oh, I proofread it and checked it and even had to re-upload it to Amazon to fix one set of formatting errors that I caught through the original "preview" process.  But when I uploaded what I thought was the "final" version, I didn't spend the $1.00 -- yes, one lousy dollar -- it would have cost me to download a live copy direct to my Kindle for PC app.

Now, let me add this, just so you know:  I checked the file that I uploaded through the "mobi" software or whatever it is that is supposed to generate exactly what will be seen on the Kindle.  Everything looked good.  I also checked it through the "preview" on  the Kindle Direct Publishing page when I uploaded it.  At that point everything looked the way I expected it to. 

Neither of those previews is the same as seeing the product as it downloads to a customer live.

The price is $2.99 and at the 70% royalty rate, I net about $2.00 out of that for each copy, so if I had bought just one copy, it would have cost me a whole dollar.  But I would have found the remaining formatting errors then and been able to fix them before the book went out to umpteen thousand customers on the Kindle Select free program a few days later.  Cheapskate here -- and I make no excuses -- decided to wait until I could get a free copy myself when everyone else did, and download a copy to my Kindle for PC.  That's when I found the problems.

Ooops, too late.  My bad. 

I immediately went back to the original file and fixed the formatting errors, but by then it was too late for all those people who downloaded the free copies.  They've got an impression of me that I would rather they didn't have, and it's entirely my fault.  All because I was too cheap to buy a copy of my own book, for which my net cost would have been one lousy dollar.

Oh but wait, there's more.  Unfortunately, there's much more.

As I wrote shortly after uploading Firefly, I fixed the formatting, and I added the explanation about the historical research on the ice cream.  Yes, that ice cream!  (Would you believe the editor on the original print version of the book never questioned it?  Well, it would have been okay if she did, because that was one of the facts I was able to verify through the Arizona Room at the Phoenix Public Library.)  The problem was, the Author's Afterword I added when I uploaded the reformatted version was -- you guessed it -- the wrong text.  I didn't discover that until today when the free version resulted in another review.  And the reason I didn't catch it is I didn't buy a copy and look at it and make sure it was the right one.

The correct Afterword has now been inserted into the original document.  I'll upload it tonight or tomorrow, when I finish going through a couple more checks for errors that may or may not be there.  And then I'll revise the description on Amazon to include a note about the corrections, and I'll offer it free again.

I'll also buy a copy of each of my other books and find out what they look like. . . . . .

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The words that don't win the prize

This particular installment is born out of personal frustration and anger.

Badly Behaving Author meltdowns seem to be becoming almost commonplace, and with their frequency comes what appears to be a growing malevolence.  The bad behavior is one thing, the escalation is another.  But where is it coming from?  What in the name of all that's literary makes people think they can get away with this?

Sadly, the out-of-all-reasonable-proportion response to negative comments on a written work are not in and of themselves anything new.  And while I think there's probably some justification for saying people who take criticism this personally and react this extremely may indeed have serious mental health issues, not all of them do.  Some of them just sincerely believe there is nothing wrong with their work and no one has any right to criticize it.

In my daily skim through the Amazon Kindle freebies a week or so ago, I stumbled upon an author's name that rang faintly familiar.  I was pretty sure I had judged a manuscript from this author in an RWA contest many many years ago.  A bit of rummaging through my files turned up a photocopied score sheet for that author's entry.  (Remember:  I keep just about EVERYTHING, and if it's related to writing, the files are generally pretty well organized.)  A little more research identified the contest entry as another of this author's now-self-published Kindle books.  Not even the title had been changed.  For sake of discussion, let's call the book Summer Love.  That's a made-up title and has nothing whatsoever to do with the real title of the real book.
Out of curiosity, I downloaded the free sample of Summer Love (the book itself was priced at $3.99) and began to read.  After just three pages I couldn't go any further; the experience was simply too painful.

I know that authors do not like to get bad "reviews."  It doesn't matter if those bad reviews are on Amazon, in RT, on Dear Author, from a critique partner, an agent, an editor, or even just a low score in a writing contest.  It hurts to have someone tell you your work isn't absolutely wonderful.

Been there, done that.

Let me repeat: 

Been there, done that.

As soon as I began reading the sample, I remembered the entry from when I had judged Summer Love.  Furthermore, I knew that if I had the score sheet in my physical files, I probably had an evaluation analysis in my digital files.  These really old ones aren't quite as organized as some of my paper files, but I did manage to find the analysis I had done on the manuscript. 

This contest was sponsored by my local RWA chapter (yeah, I know that's gonna narrow down the field of who it could be) and part of the attraction for the contest was that the judges were encouraged to give extensive feedback on the manuscripts.  Many RWA contests had restricted or even eliminated any opportunity for judges' comments because too many contestants took vocal exception to any negative comments, so for this contest, instead of just a raw score, the authors could expect explanations and even suggestions for improvement.

As I read through those old comments on an otherwise forgotten contest entry and compared those comments to what I was now reading from the self-published e-book, I realized the author had changed virtually nothing.  The same things I had found lacking in the manuscript almost 20 years ago were still lacking.  Even though I knew the author had been told at least once that at least one critic -- me -- found her characterization thin, her description lackluster, and her dialogue stiff, she had chosen to ignore that criticism.

Of course, any author is free to ignore any criticism.  And not all criticism is constructive.  I remember the argument I had with a critique group member who insisted all the backstory to Firefly should be put in a prologue so the reader doesn't have to wonder why Julie behaves the way she does.  But that reader was the only one who wanted such a prologue; every other member of the group felt leaving the revelation to be made between the characters at the appropriate time was more dramatic.  Eventually the book was published that way, and I didn't change it for the digital edition.

But in all the intervening years since I judged it in that contest, Summer Love never made it into print.  I don't know how Amazon's sales rankings are determined, but its place was pretty far down the list.  There were no reviews, not even from friends, the author herself, sock puppets, shills.  I have no way of knowing if anyone at all has ever bought a single copy.

And that to me is sad.  I know there aren't many people who read my little blog.  I know I'm mostly just talking to myself and the various searchbots that wander through here.  But if you're an author who has stumbled across these musings and you're blaming everyone from Jeff Bezos to your Golden Heart judges to your critique partners to every agent who has rejected you as a client to every editor who has rejected your manuscript, have you ever really listened to the criticisms?  Have you ever really listened to what those critics are saying?  If you've thumbed your nose at all of them -- as I have, so I know exactly where you're coming from -- and self-published digitally with little success in terms of paid sales, have you seriously wondered why?

That book, Summer Love, had its good points.  With a good editor, it could have been cleaned up and polished into a decent novel.  But one of the reasons I remembered the author's name was that she had written back to me, after the contest, to excoriate me for the comments I made on it.  And yes, I still have that letter, neatly stapled to the photocopy I made of the scoresheet.

In that letter, she accused me of not knowing anything about the particular history surrounding the events in the story, even though I never questioned the accuracy of her research.  I just said her spelling could have been improved.  She accused me of vindictiveness and spite and jealousy, even though I had been published and she had not.  She accused me of taking out my frustrations on her book and not giving it a fair reading.  Yet my comments clearly indicated that I had read her 25 submission in its entirety twice.

I'm not always right, but I'm not always wrong, either.  Maybe Summer Love would never have been published by a traditional print publisher even if the author had followed every one of my suggestions to the letter.  But we'll never know, because it doesn't look as if she ever even tried.

The words that touch the heart

One of the essentials to a successful resurrection of my writing career -- as distinguished from my publishing career -- is reading.  I do not lack for reading material, and I seem to be acquiring more and more every day.  That Amazon one-click buying button combined with ereaderiq's daily listing of freebies has swollen my Kindle library to almost 600 volumes.

But I also have an extensive library of print material, not only popular fiction but non-fiction and research and, well, you name it, I've probably got a bunch of it.

The problem I have is finding time to read, and then secondarily choosing what to read.  Most, but not all, of my print library of romance fiction is from pre-2000, and I know that I need to read more current material.  But I also need to read the old stuff.

Anyway, the point I'm trying to reach is that a few days ago I selected a book to read, something I could take outside with me if I had a little time to relax on the patio when it's not too terribly hot or for a few minutes in bed before I turn out the light.  The book is Lady of Spirit by Edith Layton, a traditional Regency romance published by Signet in 1986.  The link is the Amazon listing with a quartet of reader reviews that will give you some idea of the plot and style.

First of all, I'm not offering a review here.  I'm not well enough versed in the Regency sub-category of romance and don't want to make a fool of myself.  I've also only read about one-third of it so far.

Second, one of the reasons I chose this book was because I knew the late Edith Layton.  Not well, but I could say I had met her a couple of times at various RWA functions, chatted with her, and engaged in many online exchanges with her.  So I admit I was predisposed to like the book, and that kind of bias is not good in a reviewer.

Third, the book's age mitigates against it being instructional, informational, or even inspirational in terms of my writing for today's market.  It becomes, therefore, much more pump-priming, which is okay.  And please notice that I did not say "just" pump-priming, because I consider that function of my reading to be very important.

So my comments here are not about the plot structure, the Regency conventions, or even Ms. Layton's writing style.  Instead I want to bring up one particular element:  The power of a novel to evoke a strong emotional response in the reader.

The scene and details aren't important, but there was a passage in the early part of the novel that brought me to tears because I was able to identify with the emotions the character experiences in connection with events similar to ones from my own personal real-life history.

And I realized that this has been missing from several of the newer "romance" novels I've read recently, whether self-published digital fare from Amazon or newer digital works from established authors or the print works from the past decade or so. 

Is it just that I'm old and set in the ways developed over so many years reading romance novels?  Is it that I can't seem to connect when the characters are vampires or werewolves or angels or zombies or faeries or whatever?  Is it that I'm too liberal in my politics to be able to dismiss the whole invisible realm of poverty that lies under the facade of all the dukes and duchesses, kings and billionnaires?  I can probably answer "yes" to all of those.  And maybe that's why Lady of Spirit resonates with me, at least today.

A few weeks ago, I downloaded a new self-published historical romance from a first-time author.  I knew when I acquired it -- free -- that it was the author's first published work because she said so in the front matter.  How many other novels she wrote before deciding this would be the one she put out for public consumption, I have no way of knowing.  I looked at the free sample before I downloaded the whole thing, and so I knew the book was full of typos and formatting errors.  Not knowing the author at all, I was not disposed to like the book or make allowances for her the way I might have been for Edith Layton.

In the end, though I tried mightily, I could get through no more than I think two or three chapters of the free Kindle book.  It was a textbook example of virtually everything an author could do wrong, from boring "fashion show" description of her characters on the first pages to inaccurate history to anachronistic names to horrible grammar and spelling errors to inconsistent backstory details.  But as I read it, what struck me most was that I couldn't connect with the characters.

One of the criticisms leveled at Lady of Spirit in the reviews at Amazon is that it was too introspective.  A lot of emphasis was placed on the characters' backgrounds and how their experiences shaped them.  Because I don't read a lot of Regencies and had never read any of Ms. Layton's works before, I had nothing for comparison, but even so, I was very much aware of the depth of backstory detail in this.  And while I myself might have written it differently, and since I don't know what went into Ms. Layton's personal motivation for writing this book the way she did, all of that emotional backstory made sense.  It was in keeping with the atmosphere of the story.  And it made me care about the characters.

Romance novels are all about emotion, and the good ones reach out to the reader's emotions, engage the reader's emotions, reflect the reader's emotions.   Edith Layton reminded me of that today.